5. In the same hour came forth fingers of a man's hand, and wrote ever against the candlestick upon the plaster of the wall of the king's palace; and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote.
5. In ilia hora egressi sunt digiti manus hominis, et scribebant e regione lucernae 1 super calcern parietis 2 palatii regis, et rex cernebat palmam 3 manus scribentis.
Here Daniel begins his narration of the change which took place, for at that instant the king' acknowledged something sorrowful and disturbing to be at hand. Yet, as he did not at once understand what it was, God gave him a sign as an omen of calamity, according to the language of the profane. In this way God sent him warning when he saw the king and his nobles raging with mad licentiousness. There appeared, then, the hand of a man, says the Prophet, using this expression from its similitude and form. We are sure it was not a man's hand; it had the appearance of one, and hence was called so. Scripture often uses this method of expression, especially when treating external symbols. This is, then, a sacramental form of speech, 4 if I may use the expression. God, indeed, wrote the inscription by his own power, but he shews King Belshazzar the figure as if a man had written it on the wall; hence the fingers of a hand were put forth. This expression conduces in no slight degree to the reality of the miracle; for if Belshazzar had seen this on the wall from the very first, he might have supposed some artifice had placed the hand there; but when the wall was previously bare, and then the hand suddenly appeared, we may readily understand the hand to have been a sign from heaven, through which God wished to shew something' important to the king. The fingers of a hand, then, were put forth, and wrote from the midst of the candlestick, or lamp. Clearly, then, this was a feast by night, and Babylon was taken in the midst of the night. No wonder their banquets were protracted to a great length, for intemperance has no bounds. When men are accustomed to spend the day in luxury, I confess indeed they do not usually continue their banquets till midnight; but when they celebrate any splendid and remarkable feast, they do not find the daylight sufficient for their festivites and the grosser indulgences of the table.
Hence the hand appeared from the candlesticks to render it the more conspicuous. That hand, says the Prophet, wrote on the surface of the palace wall. If any one had announced to the king this appearance of a human hand, he might have doubted it; but he says the king was an eye-witness, for God wished to terrify him, as we shall afterwards see, and hence he set before him this spectacle. The king, then, perceived it; perhaps his nobles did not; and we shall afterwards see how the terror operated upon the king alone, unless, indeed, some others trembled with him. When, therefore, they saw his countenance changed and exhibiting proofs of terror, they began to fear, although they were all desirous of affording him some consolation. Hence God wished to summon this impious king to His tribunal when the hand of a man appeared before him in the act of writing. We shall see what it wrote in its proper place.
Grant, Almighty God, since we are so prone to forgetfulness and to our own indulgence in the desires and pleasures of the flesh, -- Grant, I say, to each of us to be recalled to the contemplation of thy judgments; and may we be anxious to walk as in thy sight. May we be afraid of thy just vengeance, be careful not to provoke it by our petulance and other vices; but may we submit ourselves to thee, be held up, and propped up by thy hands, and proceed in the sacred course of thy calling, until at length thou shalt raise us to thy heavenly kingdom, which has been acquired for us by the blood of thine only-begotten Son. -- Amen.